Highly questionable playoff effort begets 4 questions about Seahawks

The Seattle Times

A day later, the Seahawks were still trying to make sense of their early exit from the playoffs.

“The way we fell short, I’m still shocked,” veteran linebacker K.J. Wright said Sunday afternoon, a day after the Seahawks’ 30-20 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams. “I thought we would at least go to the NFC championship. It’s very frustrating. It’s very disappointing.”

Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude look back at what went wrong Saturday and what the priorities are for this team entering the offseason:

1. Was this season a failure for the Seahawks?

Condotta: That seems really harsh for a team that won 12 games and a division title. Those of us who have followed the Seahawks since day one know that would once have been cause for a parade on its own. But the bar has been raised the past decade. And this is not a young team growing into something but instead a group with pretty veteran players at some key spots. Consider that five of the top seven salary-cap hits — taking up more than $75 million — were on players over 30. Seattle has a Hall of Fame QB who will turn 33 next year and hasn’t been past the divisional round now in six years. That all means the goal this year was the Super Bowl — especially since all Seattle had to do was beat the Giants at home and it would have had home-field advantage. For better or worse, the playoffs are where the ultimate legacy of the season is determined. If “failure” might be too strong, “really disappointing” is not.

Jude: Yes, it was. Sure, 12 wins and a division title are nice achievements. For most franchises, those alone would qualify a season as a success. But the Seahawks under Pete Carroll have created far greater expectations, and they went all-in this season with designs on a deep postseason run. Come January, they barely got out of the starting blocks, and once they got going it appeared they were running in quicksand. But here’s the main reason why this season is a failure: Do you remember where this team was in early October? Do you remember how you felt then about this team, about its quarterback, about its future? Anything was possible then. Everything was possible then. No dream was too big. You want another Super Bowl title? How about three more? You want Russell Wilson to finally get an MVP vote? How about all the votes. And now? How do you feel now? Ha, dream on. Any sudden exit from the playoffs is going to be a disappointment. But for the 2020 Seahawks, that disappointment is even more stark because of their steep and sudden fall. When they thought they were standing on solid concrete, the rug they didn’t know was there was pulled from underneath them.

2. What was most to blame for what happened against the Rams on Saturday?

Jude: You could point a finger at a lot of facets of the offense. Wilson wasn’t good enough. The protection from the offensive line wasn’t good enough. The run game wasn’t good enough. And the offensive game plan certainly wasn’t good enough. A third matchup against the Rams — and against the No. 1 defense in the NFL — required a plan with multiple variations, with new wrinkles, with new thinking. The Seahawks didn’t seem to have any of that, and if they thought they had some of that coming into the game they didn’t figure out how to show any of it. These weren’t new issues, either. It was the same stale, disorganized offense we’d seen far too often in the second half of the season. They were 2 for 14 — 2 for 14! — on third down, which points to problems with both the play-calling and the execution of those plays. The lack of adjustments — both during the week and during the game — showed up again and again the past two months, and because of that the Seahawks were exposed Saturday against an elite defense.

Condotta: Watching the replay made clear how much the Seahawks’ offensive line was just outmanned by the Rams, especially Aaron Donald. It’s not news that Donald is really good, but boy did he prove it anew Saturday. It was going to be hard for Seattle to mount real consistent drives, and then the pick-six put the Seahawks into early desperation mode. It felt like the only thing that really worked for Seattle’s offense came when Wilson scrambled and made something happen, which felt like the case too often the last month or so of the season. That’s an awful lot to ask against the Rams. But it wasn’t just the line — Seattle’s receivers also had a really tough day. Consider that Tyler Lockett didn’t have a catch after the seven-minute mark of the second quarter. And then the defense also got pushed around too much by Los Angeles’ running game. The Rams seemed to change their focus a little bit, not really bothering with the fly sweeps and all that after Seattle’s win two weeks ago — their quarterback situation probably played into that, too. The Rams only averaged 3.8 yards per carry but it somehow felt like more than that.

3. Do the Seahawks need to do something radical with this offense this offseason?

Jude: When you have the kind of skill talent and experience the Seahawks have on offense … when you have an elite QB in his prime … when you have an offense that’s shown it’s capable of being one of the very best in the NFL … and when you have an offensive philosophy that seems to work directly against all that potential … then, yes, something needs to change. The Seahawks did make a radical shift midway through the season to turn around the defense. But at what cost? Carroll seems to think that Seattle’s defensive turnaround owed, at least in part, to the shift in the offensive approach — from the high-risk, high-reward #LetRussCook entertainment of the first half of the season to the play-it-safe, take-care-of-the-ball style in the second half. (The Seahawks, for what it’s worth, went 6-2 in the first half of the season … and 6-2 in the second half of the season.) Carroll loves drama. He loves winning in the fourth quarter, but a Flip The Script offense — simply expecting your team to magically turn it on and turn it up late in the game — in the end proved to be the more high-risk approach for this team. That does not seem like a sustainable model going forward.

Condotta: Not radical, no. They don’t need to fire Brian Schottenheimer — it almost seems ridiculous to even mention that after Seattle set a franchise record for points scored this year. But they do need to beef up the complementary receiving positions — they could really use a third receiver who can stretch the field, which they thought they’d get from Phillip Dorsett, one of the free-agent signings this year that didn’t work. They also need more out of the tight-end position — maybe Will Dissly a year removed from a major injury can get back to the form he showed in 2018 and 2019 before he was hurt in those years. And they need to continue to try to upgrade the offensive line. It’s a lot to ask to say the line needs to reach the level of competing against the Rams’ D-line. But then, they are going to have to keep playing the Rams twice a year, not to mention the 49ers once they get people healthy next year. If you’re going to play in the West, you’re going to have to keep up with the teams in the West.

4. Among their own free agents, who should be the Seahawks’ top priority to re-sign?

Condotta: The Seahawks now have 24 unrestricted free agents, including Chris Carson, K.J. Wright, Shaquill Griffin, Greg Olsen, Mike Iupati, Quinton Dunbar and Ethan Pocic.

Carson is a player the Seahawks want back, but just how much may depend in part on their confidence in Rashaad Penny and if they think there might be someone else available on the market who could take Carson’s place, if needed. Wright may be the most intriguing case. He’ll be 32 next season, and ending a two-year contract that many figured would be his last with the team. But Wright had one of his best seasons this year — his Pro Football Focus grade was the second best of his career — and his transition to back strongside linebacker helped solidify the defense. I would think Seattle wants Wright back and that he’d want to stay. Wright said as much when he talked to media via Zoom on Sunday as players cleaned out their lockers. But Wright also said he’d be open to playing somewhere else, too. And as always, business is business and there will be lots of tough decisions ahead this offseason. The Seahawks mostly hoped they weren’t going to have to deal with them yet.

Jude: Carson. The Seahawks are in a tough spot with their star running back. They need him. But can they afford him? NFL free agency will be difficult for most teams this offseason, and it seems impossible that the Seahawks will be able to keep Carson and K.J. Wright and Shaquill Griffin and Carlos Dunlap and give Jamal Adams the kind of long-term extension he’s due. The hunch here is the Seahawks will let Carson test free agency to see where his market stands. Even with his injury history, Carson has been one of the best bargains in the NFL the past four seasons, and if the Seahawks can get him at the right price — maybe $7 million to $8 million per year — then they should absolutely jump at that opportunity. Say what you will about the value of running backs in the NFL, but Carson is a top-five back in this league, and the Seahawks offense is better with him in it.